One of the past few years' most comforting, affecting, and assertive analyses of love, life, people, and their problems.
Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
The first five minutes of Katie Crutchfield’s third album as Waxahatchee pass without the presence of any percussion at all. An initial reaction to this fact might be to declare Ivy Tripp extreme, but this neglects that Crutchfield’s previous album, 2013’s masterful Cerulean Salt, opened with two drumless minutes. Rather, this observation serves to emphasize that Crutchfield’s newest collection sees her expanding. It contains her two longest songs to date as well as her most uptempo tune yet, and introduces the occasional synth for the first time in her career. More notably, it displays Crutchfield transforming her already robust lyricism from an introverted, self-contained diary of heartache into a more hopeful and confident stance on life and love. In writing this sturdier, more wholesome poetry, Crutchfield has also given her voice a platform to drastically broaden its range from its formerly emotive but restrained state into a much more commanding, emphatic instrument. Indeed, Crutchfield has improved on all of Cerulean Salt‘s very small handful of flaws on Ivy Tripp, resulting in an effortless, vivacious album that still manages to feel as personal as her quieter past efforts.
Ivy Tripp opens with the guitar-and-vocals take “Breathless”, a five-minute song that, despite employing an instrumental setup in which Crutchfield is well versed, feels newly immersive for Waxahatchee, immediately suggesting the strength that Ivy Tripp enjoys over its thirty-eight minutes. “Under a Rock” follows, and wastes no time in showcasing how vastly Crutchfield’s voice has grown. “Maybe/you got/your head/caught in a ditch last night” beckons Crutchfield with a rugged vibrato previously unheard in her music. This song segues seamlessly into “Poison”, an album highlight infused with waves of sailing, shoegaze-like guitar work and tugging vocal self-harmonization. But these songs prove to be mere warm-up laps for “La Loose”, the first Waxahatchee song that might reasonably be described as dance-worthy , or even a summer song. Sure, the most basic of drum machine beats drives it, but the groove laid down here is undeniable, and the peripheral synthetic hum underlying Crutchfield’s potent vocalizations makes this the first time a Waxahatchee song is bound to incite listeners out of their seats rather than sinking them further into stillness.
“Stale By Noon” thereafter provides a necessary comedown from “La Loose”, its early-morning beads of —is that a xylophone?—allowing Crutchfield’s newfound optimism to properly shine through. Sandwiched between this song and similarly tranquil ditty “Blue” is the fuzzed-out stomp of “The Dirt”, one of the sunniest songs Crutchfield’s written to date. After this three-song stretch comes aptly-chosen lead single “Air”, likely the album’s best song and one of the year’s most poignant tunes thus far. Like the rest of Ivy Tripp, this song uses Crutchfield’s greater vocal range, confidence, and vibrato to great success and tells a boldly objective tale of a love lost; where it stands out from the pack, though, is in how deeply its sadness cuts. Its chorus is utterly crushing and heartbreaking, almost on the level of career highlight “Swan Dive”, and its placement on this album provides an incessantly replayable contrast to the otherwise more bullish tone of this album.
The melancholy of “Air” continues into the desolation of “<“, a song whose title derives from its chorus: “You’re less than me/I am nothing.” Back to back, “Air” and “<” represent the most explicitly glum stretch of Ivy Tripp, a fact that becomes immediately obvious when the sprightly “Grey Hair” follows. “Sugar, soda pop/songs play on the radio” may be the most jovial lyric Katie Crutchfield has committed to record, and the surprisingly merry piano line and gleeful vocal take outlining the song indicate that her joy isn’t accidental. “Grey Hair” leads to another shockingly sunny tune, one that recalls Crutchfield’s incredibly intimate debut, the acoustic lo-fi 2012 album American Weekend. This song, “Summer of Love”, may be the album’s weakest, which is acceptable given its resemblance to Waxahatchee’s earliest work. Its smiling acoustic guitar, the only element present other than some ambient haze, doesn’t properly support the hefty weight of her vocals. “Half Moon” appears next, and this song likewise refuses to regain the drums that “Summer of Love” ditched, but its pianos do manage to successfully reinforce Crutchfield’s voice.
Ending Ivy Tripp is “Bonfire”, a song whose lurching, haunting crawl of fuzz-laced guitar drone, looping bass drums, and softly muttered vocals doesn’t impact as immediately as the remainder of the album does. But this initially faint impression may be in part due to this song’s relation to Cerulean Salt; the restraint Crutchfield places on her voice here recalls the heart-on-sleeve familiarity of that album, a trait which is mostly eliminated here. But she hasn’t forgone this approach because it’s an invalid one; rather, that approach earned her the majority of her current fan base. With this context in mind, “Bonfire” grows, over time, into one of Ivy Tripp‘s finest moments, and its placement at the end of the album feels like a nod to listeners who have willingly gone with her new direction.
Not that doing so is in any way difficult. What Crutchfield hasn’t sacrificed in moving forward from her musical past is the specificity and emotional depth of her lyrics, and the jolt of her words feels like icing on the already delectable cake of this album’s sound. Rather than the past themes of complete hopelessness (“Swan Dive”), unsatisfying revenge (“Peace and Quiet”), and love-driven obsession (“Blue Pt. II”), Ivy Tripp details more mature outlooks on Waxahatchee’s oft-explored subjects. “I could stop praying for everybody/I’m just wasting my time/I’ll read your philosophy and get a new lease on life”, she decides on “Stale By Noon”; the confidence and thorough consideration of this statement is echoed in “La Loose”‘s understanding that “I get why you would long for your past.” Even more impressively adult is Crutchfield admitting to herself on “Grey Hair” that a certain lover may not be “the only one”, later following with the admission that her excitement has her “out of breath/I can’t slow down.” Just as her music is quite often newly optimistic, on Ivy Tripp, so too are her words.
From what Crutchfield has told the press, Ivy Tripp‘s shift in a more grown-up direction makes sense. “[Ivy Tripp] was the first record that I made as an adult, on my own,” she told The Le Sigh recently, a change that’s quite evident throughout the album. She also mentioned to The Le Sigh that writing this album took her much longer than her previous work (American Weekend was created, recorded, and mastered within one week): “It’ll take me hours to write like one verse,” she admitted. “I’ll just scrutinize every single word, and then I’ll go back and I’ll edit it, and a song will take me like weeks or months to finish, because I’ll want every single word to be perfect.” The effort shows: Ivy Tripp is not only Waxahatchee’s strongest work to date, but it’s also one of the past few years’ most comforting, affecting, and assertive analyses of love, life, people, and their problems. Growing up may be hard to do, but Ivy Tripp demonstrates how worthwhile the transformation is.